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- Preliminary Study
- Primary Study
Objective: The primary aim of this study was to develop and validate the Food-Craving Inventory (FCI), a self-report measure of specific food cravings.
Research Methods and Procedures: In a preliminary study, participants (n = 474) completed the initial version of the FCI. The results from this study were used in developing the revised FCI. Participants (n = 379) completed the revised FCI in the primary study designed to develop a self-report measure of specific food cravings.
Results: Common factor analysis yielded four conceptual factors (subscales) that were interpreted as high fats, sweets, carbohydrates/starches, and fast-food fats. Confirmatory factor analysis found that the four factors could be modeled as dimensions (or first-order factors) of a higher order construct—food craving. Test–retest and internal consistency analyses indicated good reliability for the total score and each of the subscales. Subscale scores were compared with scores on the Three Factor Eating Questionnaire and a conceptual measure of food craving. We found support for the content, concurrent, construct, and discriminant validity of the FCI.
Discussion: The FCI was found to be a reliable and valid measure of general and specific food cravings. The FCI can be used in research related to overeating and binge eating. Also, it may be useful in treatment studies that target obesity and/or food cravings.
- Top of page
- Preliminary Study
- Primary Study
Food craving has received increased attention from researchers in recent years (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6). It has been suggested that food cravings play a role in maintaining excessive eating patterns observed in binge eating, bulimia, and obesity (7). Although anecdotal evidence suggests that food cravings precipitate binge eating, some research has failed to find that food craving leads to binge eating or obesity (4, 7, 8). Of particular importance is the finding that not all who crave foods develop disturbed eating patterns (3). There is limited agreement pertaining to the biological, psychological, and behavioral factors that determine food cravings. To date, three primary themes have been explored regarding the relationship between food cravings and eating disturbances. These are the physiological or homeostatic theories (5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11), learning theories involving sensory aspects of food (5, 7, 11, 12, 13), and psychological or affect-related theories (2, 4, 10, 11).
Several studies have investigated the role of cravings for specific food classes (e.g., carbohydrates, sweets, and fats) and have demonstrated differences in the types of foods craved according to gender, age, hunger state, time of day, and phase of the menstrual cycle (1, 2, 5, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20). Carbohydrate craving has been most frequently studied. Several investigative teams have hypothesized that neurotransmitters (e.g., serotonin) may play a role in carbohydrate cravings, obesity, and depression (5, 10, 21). Craving has also been viewed as an equivalent to addiction, and as such, is dependent on the ratio of dopamine to acetylcholine in the nucleus acumbens (22). Research on craving for specific foods or macronutrients has been limited by the absence of a reliable and valid measure of specific food cravings. A review of the food craving literature identified four measures for food cravings that have been used in previous studies (4, 8, 10, 23). However, these scales either measure the construct of food craving in general or have not been empirically validated. In developing this measure of specific food cravings, we found that there has been considerable disagreement about the definition of food cravings (2). Two definitions have been most commonly used: behavioral and subjective descriptions of food craving. To define a craving as behavior discounts the cognitive nature of the cravings (7) and does not differentiate cravings from hunger. Much of the literature to date has relied on participants’ subjective interpretation of the term craving or has not delineated the point at which a desire for a particular food becomes a craving (2, 7). With these issues in mind, we expanded the definition of craving proposed by Weingarten and Elston (7, 8) (i.e., “an intense desire to consume a particular food or food type that is difficult to resist”). This definition adopts the perspective that food craving is an internal experience with cognitive and emotional (drive or motivational) properties. In the first of two studies, we tested for psychometric differences between two response formats to define craving: subjective vs. behavioral.
It is unclear whether biological, cognitive, learning, or some combination of these factors is responsible for the phenomenon of food cravings. However, there is evidence that people tend to crave particular classes of foods, especially sweets, carbohydrates, and high-fat foods (2, 5, 15, 17, 20, 24). For example, a recent study investigated the frequency of food cravings for individual foods and found the highest frequencies of reported cravings for chocolate, pasta, desserts, steak, and chicken (24). However, existing craving scales measure the general experience of food craving, rather than the specific foods craved. For example, the conceptual food craving questionnaire of Hill et al. (10) consists of five items assessing the strength/intensity and frequency of food cravings. This scale is limited by the small number of items as well as its inability to assess cravings for different types of foods. Cepeda-Benito et al. (23) developed the State and Trait Food Cravings Questionnaire, which measures the stable (trait) and situational (state) dimensions of food cravings. This measure also focuses on the general aspects of food cravings rather than on the types of foods that people crave, i.e., specific food cravings. Harvey et al. (4) developed a measure requiring participants to rate the degree to which 40 different foods had been desired over the previous week. The scales consist of five subscales: low-fat protein foods, high-fat protein foods, complex carbohydrates, other fats, and miscellaneous. Although this scale measures specific foods craved, the subscales were determined by grouping foods in terms of macronutrient content. Furthermore, no psychometric tests of the reliability and validity of this measure were conducted.
The assessment of specific food cravings is an important objective in that cravings for specific types of foods (and subsequent consumption) have strong implications for obesity and related health problems. The development of a psychometrically sound measure of specific food cravings is an important first step for future research in this area regardless of the etiology of such cravings. Because previous research has suggested that individuals crave particular classes of foods, one aim of this investigation was to determine whether craving responses to different foods would yield a factor structure consisting of foods with similar macronutrient content (e.g., foods high in dietary fat). (Factor analysis is a data reduction technique used to discover simple patterns in the relationships among variables (or items). The technique is based on the covariance matrices of the individual items and seeks to discover whether observed variables can be explained in terms of a smaller number of variables called factors. Factors are determined solely on the basis of statistical properties; items load on a given factor according to their intercorrelations with other items of the scale. The meaning of a factor is based on the primary content of the items that load on a factor. In this study, we were interested in whether factors would be formed on the basis of similarities of foods, e.g., foods that were high in fat or high in sugar.) In the development of the Food-Craving Inventory (FCI), the internal consistency, test–retest reliability, and convergent and divergent validity of the subscales were tested. We also tested whether food craving should be conceptualized as one construct or as a multi-dimensional construct. The FCI was developed in two studies. In a preliminary study, two craving-response rating scales were tested and food items were reduced in number using a statistical procedure called factor analysis.